Washington Redskins Week 5 Stock Report
Week 4 was kind to the rebuilding Washington Redskins. Not only did they win to even their record at 2-2, but the team experienced major improvement in key areas on both sides of the ball.
Defensively, that meant two members of the front seven keyed a season-best outing from the pass rush. Washington won Individual battles across the trenches, sending Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford running for his life regularly.
On offense, the big story was Kirk Cousins' apparent maturation. This season's starter engineered the game-winning drive with smart decisions and clutch throws from the pocket.
If there are negatives from the 23-20 win over the Eagles, they involve an injury to a key member of Cousins' supporting cast. There's also the not-so-small matter of a high-priced offseason free agent struggling to perform up to expectations.
Read on for a full accounting of Washington's stock report after four games.
Stock Up: Trent Murphy, OLB
Washington used its top draft pick in 2014 on Trent Murphy, hoping to add a blue-chip pass-rusher off the edge. It was a reasonable investment considering he left Stanford as college football's sack leader in 2013.
But despite appearing in 15 games, including making eight starts, as a rookie, Murphy logged just 2.5 sacks. When new general manager Scot McCloughan spent a second-round pick on Preston Smith this year, it sent Murphy a clear message.
It's a message he seems to have received. Murphy was excellent against the Eagles in Week 4, sacking Bradford and applying a ton of pressure.
The performance was enough to make head coach Jay Gruden take a wait-and-see approach on Smith and reaffirm their confidence in Murphy, according to Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post:
Murphy’s our starter, and he’s playing well. He’s a very good first- and second-down run player. He showed the ability to pass rush yesterday, so we like both of them, and they’re in the developmental stages of their careers. They’re both getting stronger every day in the weight room. They’re both learning from the experience that they have on game day.
Murphy has merited the praise for the way he moved all over the line and rushed from multiple angles against the Eagles. His versatility, along with the improvements he's made in one-on-one matchups, helped increase the variety and potency of Washington's pass rush.
If Murphy can continue his development, he'll become the bookend for the defensive star, Ryan Kerrigan. Then coordinator Joe Barry will have the edge-rushers he needs to make his brand of defense work.
Stock Down: Chris Culliver, CB
It's safe to say Week 4 was a rough one for Chris Culliver. As one of the last men standing in Washington's injury-depleted cornerback rotation, the ex-San Francisco 49ers starter didn't deliver.
Instead, the veteran was routinely exposed in deep coverage. Thanks to Culliver's failings, the otherwise beleaguered Bradford still managed to produce key big plays through the air, as noted by Dan Roth of the Washington Times:
But Bradford still managed to throw three touchdown passes without turning the ball over once. He found receiver Riley Cooper wide open in the third quarter, screaming down the field for a 62-yard touchdown, and in the fourth, he found Miles Austin open for a 39-yard touchdown. Both times it was Culliver who was responsible for the blown coverage.
In fairness, Roth also detailed how Culliver missed a pair of practice sessions late in the week before the Eagles came to town. The corner was nursing a "left knee injury."
Still, it's hardly been a standout first four games for Culliver since he signed with the Redskins this offseason. He's supposed to be a shutdown cover man in Barry's scheme—the cornerback who can press receivers at the line and snatch more than a few turnovers.
Yet things haven't quite worked out that way. It hasn't helped that the cast around him in the secondary has been constantly revolving. Neither has Barry's often too passive brand of coverage, something that doesn't suit what Culliver does best.
Whatever the reasons, the burgundy and gold need the man it handed a four-year, $32 million contract to get healthy and back to the form he showed in 2014, when he picked off a career-best four passes.
Stock Up: Chris Baker, DE
It's a season later than expected, but Chris Baker is emerging as a breakout player for this season's Redskins. The D-lineman has found his niche as a pocket-wrecking interior pass-rusher.
Those qualities helped destroy the Eagles offense in Week 4. Baker was in on two sacks and was a force in the running game.
His improvement is keeping more high-profile options on the sideline, according to ESPN.com's John Keim:
Defensive end Stephen Paea played only 12 snaps. He was a key free-agent acquisition, but one reason he didn’t play more has to do with Chris Baker's emergence. Baker has looked like a different player -- or at least an improved one -- and was a force in the first half Sunday with two sacks and a tackle for a loss.
Baker has always had the ability to be disruptive in every phase of the game. With his 6'2", 325-pound frame, he boasts the size to both two-gap and overpower individual blockers.
If there's a surprise with Baker, it's that he's more explosive than your average hefty road-grader. Rushing the passer is steadily becoming the 27-year-old's forte.
It's no coincidence that the arrival of new talent up front has inspired this previously streaky performer to show some genuine consistency. Not only have Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois arrived to play end, but Baker's close friend Terrance Knighton is now the team's first-choice nose tackle.
Having Pot Roast play 0-technique has freed Baker up to play on the edges more often, where he's most effective in the base defense. Now he's also one of the team's most potent weapons in the nickel set.
It doesn't matter if Baker is a de facto starter or not. His presence and performances mean Washington boasts scary depth and talent along the front line of its defense.
Stock Down: Jordan Reed, TE
Jordan Reed's stock isn't down because of his performances through four games this season. In fact, he's been the Redskins' most prolific outlet in the passing game. Reed has hauled in 24 receptions for 278 yards and has practically been automatic on third down.
But once again, Reed has left the team, its coaches and fans wondering just how good he would be if only he could stay healthy. That question is relevant since he yet again finds himself back on the shelf.
His latest stint in the injury room comes after he suffered a trio of problems against the Eagles, according to Anthony Gulizia of the Washington Times: "an MCL sprain in his right knee, a left ankle sprain and a concussion."
As Gulizia also notes, Reed has a worrying history with concussions, including "two concussions while playing at Florida, sustained a concussion in 2013 and missed six games."
Reed is a major loss to the passing game. He's versatile enough to work the underneath passing zones and stretch the seams from a variety of alignments. Just as importantly, Reed's athletic range means he can attack and outrun coverage on a host of routes. In short, he's a matchup weapon that defenses will always struggle to account for.
At some point, the Redskins have to decide if the made-of-glass tight end who had already missed 12 games before his latest injury is ever going to stay healthy long enough to deliver on his talent.
Stock Up: Kirk Cousins, QB
Cousins needed to take a step or two forward after Week 3's loss to the New York Giants. Fortunately, he managed to do exactly that against the Eagles.
Cousins merited praise for the way he directed the offense. He exhibited command of the playbook, authority and control at the line of scrimmage, as well as rare efficiency.
He didn't toss an interception, despite putting the ball in the air 46 times against Philadelphia. From his 31 completions, ESPN.com's John Keim highlighted several key qualities, including "poise" and "quick decisions" from the pocket.
While Cousins did his part, he was working in unison with a system that helped him succeed. MMQB analyst Andy Benoit tweeted how head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay used scheme and personnel to make life easier for No. 8.
A quarterback thriving thanks to a playbook designed to maximize his strengths and mitigate his weaknesses is exactly how things are supposed to work for the burgundy and gold.
With Cousins under center, the Redskins finally have a passer and a coaching staff on the same page. That can only mean good things for the rest of the season.